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Blog posts tagged with 'lawncare'

Autumn Lawncare

It may have escaped your attention, but we appear to be almost at the end of September. Where did that go? Not that I am complaining of course, the sea is still beautifully warm and the balmy, but slighlty wet air has extended a summer feel to the gardens. T-shirts are still needed!

If you haven’t scarified your lawn, now is the time. Many think one does this in Spring, but they would be wrong as it weakens the grass structure when it is trying to grow after the struggles of winter.  You can scarify simply by raking the grass with a metal, spring-tined rake. If you have a bigger lawn, you can hire a mechanical scarifier. Simply put, what you are trying to achieve is the perfect lawn. By scarifying, you are trying to rid the lawn of all the years build up of thatch and dead grass. You are also encouraging stronger root growth, which given we are increasingly having dry summers, you will do well to remember, the better the root, the better it will survive. If you have bald spots on the lawn, buy some lawn seed and mix with compost and cover the patch, watering liberally. If the whole lawn is thin, add seed to the whole thing, once you have scarified. A good root feed will also help – do not add nitrogen now as it will be wasted. There are many root feeds to choose from, but bone meal will do no harm.

Try to spike the lawn before you feed then water well to wash the nutrient in.

If you are wondering why the grass is going mad at the moment and needs cutting twice a week, it is because we are in the period the French call the ‘second spring’. Basically as winter approaches all the plants are burning off all the last of their sugars – which is a liability in cold weather as it crystallizes in the cells and eventually destroys them. Plants like grass do not have a good tap root, so will instead go into a state of virtual hibernation – which is why many other plants by autumn have built huge tubers full of carbohydrate converted from sugars to see them through the dark months.

August - an interesting time in the garden

As the weather changes to Autumnal westerly storms, August is an interesting time in the garden. The Swifts departed at the end of July and many of the Martins and Swallows with them for some reason. What that says about our coming season I know not. If you have a problem with you lawns now is the time to start thinking of how to rectify them. For example, I am about to treat a client's lawn with an Autumn feed and moss killer so that it is ready for scarifying in September. This may sound odd, but one must remember grass is a fickle plant. It cannot be grown too long (otherwise it clumps). By the same token neither can it be cut too short (it gets stressed, dies back and allows moss to take over). It doesn't like shallow roots, nor wet roots and it doesn't like too much wear from footfall. Who'd have a lawn? It is a little known fact that the National Trust replaces vast swathes of turf in the autumn and winter, leaving the impression that somehow they have the magical touch. A green and flat lawn may be every Englishman's idea of perfection, but, truth be told, to get one right deserves a medal or a perhaps a padded cell - I am never sure which.

In the flower garden as plants finish flowering try to deadhead them to extend the flowering season. Some roses especially respond well if they think that all their efforts at propagation have gone to waste. If the plant is a shrub, prune the whole plant back into shape once the flowers are spent. Then feed everything well with a good mixture of blood fish and bone - the poor things must be exhausted after all the exertions attracting the bees!

August is also the month when you get the winter veg in.  Cabbages, Brussels Sprouts, Turnip Greens and Collards are all high on the list of plants that will provide early leaf for next Spring. Remember that these plants like a good firm soil to live in - they hate to be rocked by hard winds. Also add a dressing of garden lime to the soil as you plant, to deter root problems. I have also been naughty and planted onions at this time of year too. If I am honest, the harvest was a little earlier than normal, but nothing truly remarkable despite what the books say. 

Mid-Summer

Seeing as we are now, annually speaking, over the hill - having witnessed last week the `Mid-Summer` solstice- I am sure you are wondering what is left to do in the garden whilst we await patiently for the first signs of Autumn and the inevitable Christmas adverts on TV?

Well, there is a lot.

Despite the fact that somewhere our societal calendar has stepped away from tradition and now follows the schools, the garden believe it or not has much to offer.

Your lawns, I am sure could do with a good feed, but instead of running out to the shops and buying some ecologically damaging chemical or other, try a light dressing of something called 7X. If you are not sure what I am talking about, it is a bag of well rotted manure-cum-compost (not an Australian beer), available at the garden centre, high in the vital nutrient nitrogen and perfect for summer feed. It doesn`t smell either and can be walked on immediately unlike the chemicals.

Also, as I am sure the lawn has already seen a fair amount of use, despite the mixed weather, it may be an idea to spike your lawn, offering the roots some air and reducing compaction damage. This can be done with a fork.

Another job for the diligent is the dead-heading of flowering shrubs and roses. Whilst you may extend the flowering season, you are also helping the plant divert its resources from producing off-spring to the vital role of keeping itself healthy.

Indeed, as shrubs finish flowering, it is a good idea to prune them to shape, or perhaps a little harder in order that they still have a chance to grow back into shape and to grow the buds for next year’s flower. Plants like Kolkwitzia, Philadelphus and Deutzia appreciate this treatment more than a general tidy at the end of this year’s play. In fact, it is directly after flowering that these shrubs do well to have the old wood cut out entirely - letting in more air and light and ultimately producing a better plant.

Another great job for the meticulous is weeding. Many see the task as a frustrating chore, to be bemoaned and avoided, but I myself find the exercise very Zen if that is possible for Englishman. I can let my thoughts wander to ideas of what it is to be a seedling or perhaps an ant, whilst the majority of my frontal lobe is in a well-trained auto-pilot discerning unintentional from the intentional. If during this experience, my mind goes blank, even momentarily, I have become one with the garden and Nirvana reached.

Or that`s what I`m told.

Time for a cuppa I think.

 

Keep the winter chill at bay

 

Before the winter weather really sets in later this month, can I advise you to do yourself one big favour? Buy a pair of Charnwood Boots. I cannot recommend them enough to be honest. I have worn them for the past two months at work and at leisure and I cannot fault them. Perhaps, if I am honest buy yourself a set of sports insoles – I suffer from ‘over-pronation’ so need to enhance any footwear.

So far the boots have survived several longish walks (up to 10 miles) through mud, stone, sand and shingle. Through woods, over dales, across streams, up the North and South Downs and along the South Coast they have performed wonderfully. I can attest that they are fully waterproof (and cow-muck proof), sturdy and thankfully easily cleaned.

An extra bonus?

They are undoubtedly warm. At this time of year I always wear a couple of pairs of socks and still feel the cold, but these boots have taken the edge off any truly frosty morning. I will say here that they are not ‘safety boots’ so do not use them on building sites or in areas where you may need the steel toe, but they are nonetheless useful work boots. Ideal for horse stables too – unlike the similar competitors boots which are merely splash proof.

In the garden it may be an idea to start looking at your fruit trees. If you have a problem with frequent fruiting or disease it always a good idea to prune apples and pear trees on a yearly basis. However, last year I left them well alone as the wet winter was enough stress. Leave the Prunus varieties such as plum and cherry until spring or even mid-summer as they have a different physiology. Remove dead, diseased or damaged branches if that is all you are confident in doing. If you want to learn a  bit more, I have published online a pruning guide at my website pages: http://guydeakinsgardening.com/blog/herb-guide/

Try not to walk on the lawn during heavy frost or even the snow. Grass is easily stressed and susceptible to destructive slime mould at this time of year, so try and keep off it as much as possible. If you do see it waterlogged, using a board to walk on (and to spread your weight), spike it with a sharp garden fork or even better a hollow tine aerator to add air holes. Add a mixture of compost and sand to help drainage.

July Jobs
The traditional time to cut evergreen hedges is after the Epsom Derby, so all your beautiful box hedging, parterres and topiary should now be well on the way to being reshaped.
 
You still just have a window to sow mange tout peas for an autumn crop of  and successional sowings of salads.
 
July is a traditional month of change, the last chance to cut the hay if it stays dry enough - in some counties it is the last month of summer before the beginning of the harvests in August. However, continue to water your plants as the rain may not be as substantial as you at first expect. Unless the rain is heavy and sustained, in this warmth, much will be evaporated before it reaches the deeper roots. Thus the best thing you can do for your precious plants is to water heavily in the evening twice a week. Remember, there is really no use watering a little amount as much will evaporate, so water well.
 
Whilst talking of watering, please remember visitors to your garden may need a thirst quenching drink. A water bowl will offer hedgehogs welcome respite, so too a bowl placed higher - out of reach of cats - may provide our avian friends with much needed liquid. Whilst you may curse the pigeons for stripping the cabbages, song thrushes are great at ridding the garden of snails and slugs.
 

 

Notwithstanding, I must admit here, I am no fan of the lawn sprinkler. We may live in a country that has rain as a `normal` weather occurrence, but the way we collect it for our use is pretty poor. Thus we should not look upon using such a vital resource as a throw away substance, indeed as utilities push their prices up, watering the lawn will be impractical and expensive in the near future. Only 0.02% of all water on the planet is available to drink so think on. Instead, try to save your grey water. Set up water buts next to your bath or shower down pipe. Buy a water butt or two for the drain pipes and if you are really savvy, install a soak away that feeds into an underground storage area or bog garden. (You may even get a reduction in your water bill as believe it or not, you are paying for waste water to be transported away from your house.) If you are still worrying about the lawn, don`t worry, it can happily go dormant for a number of months without a problem. Yellow isn’t that bad when it saves you money.     
Can I speak honestly?
With all this wet weather we have had I have never been so glad to have a sturdy and trustworthy pair of wellies. If you are after the very basic but practical or like to have a little more comfort, Town and Country have yet to let me down. I can’t remember another winter where I have virtually stayed in my boots and they have certainly come in handy!
 
 
 
A major chore this year has been to clean out all the drainage gullies on the large gardens and estates I look after so my feet were in contact with water for most of December and January. Thankfully, I remained warm and dry throughout.
 
To be honest and I am sure you know by now, there isn’t anywhere left for the rainwater to go, as the rivers are full and the ground is full (and hopefully the reservoirs too.) So what to do in the garden?
 
The best course of action now is to stay clear of the lawn altogether. If it was spiked in January as suggested, all you can do now is watch and wait. There is nothing else for it.
 
As for other jobs, we are in an interesting position. Apple trees need pruning in order to stop becoming biennial with fruiting. However, the level of stress they are under at the moment, I hesitate to do anything which may add disease to the mix as fungus loves this kind of weather.  A fork amongst the roots with some dry compost and sand may help aerate and alleviate issues. The same can be done with all your shrubs.
 

 

I would suggest a little known law is quite important to remember now. Any large tree or shrubs that are within ten feet of public access or your garden boundary is now, more than ever in need of inspection as it is your responsibility to make sure it is safe. The wind and rain will have seriously weakened root systems. Given that you are responsible for the safety of others near your tree, this I would suggest is of utmost importance as you may not like the surprise of a hefty insurance bill if something were to happen. A general walk-by inspection is required every year to look for any damage or danger, but once every five years it is suggested  a professional undertakes a survey.
 
What a start to the New Year!

I doubt many would want to be out and about in the current weather, but spare a moment to think on your plants. You may think that they will be loving all this rain, but understanding that a plant needs air as well as water, you a chance to stop the rot, before you have to expensive replacements. If you garden is well and truly sodden, now is the time to get out there and address some immediate issues.



The lawn is still growing, given the mild air currents, but it will be sitting wet – something it hates. If your garden is on anything but sand, its roots will be struggling to breath and you will need to slit or aerate the lawn. First sweep away all the debris that has collected. Then, grab a fork. Starting at a corner where you will not have to walk over it twice, insert the fork at a 45 degree angle and lift the turf slightly. It needn’t be by much, just enough to allow an air pocket. Remove the fork and repeat. The best method is to create a zig-zag of forked columns or rows across the lawn. Once you have done this, a light dressing of compost would be welcome. Try not to walk on the lawn for a week or so, to let it settle.

Alternatively, you could just use the special shoes or aerating machinery that is available, but given the amount of water that has fallen, and given snow is approaching, I am not sure this will suffice.

If there are any areas in your garden, where shrubs sit wet, try to fork the roots to give them air. Some trees even – such as the Southern Beech (Nothofagus spp.) – will rot quite quickly if in wet soil leaving you with a dead plant and an expensive headache to replace.

Ants in your lawn

I was recently asked by a client how to get rid of ants in the lawn. I have to admit that this is a difficult subject to tackle. A plague of ants in the lawn can be uncomfortable at best and at worst will destroy the lawn by creating mounds of finely tilled earth that can kill the grass.

There are proprietary branded products on the market that are supposedly good at killing ants, but from experience they have no use in the lawn as the ants do not take them back to the nest, which is what needs to happen in order to stop this problem. An old wives tale states that boiling water poured onto the nest will do the trick, but to be honest if you want a scorched lawn and a more visible ant’s nest, then this is the path for you. The problem here is the nest will be deep underground so the trick is to upset the natural balance.

Personally, I have found that the best action is a multiple approach.

The first approach is to buy a besom or a Town and Country stiff brush and just brush the mounds away; making sure the soil is dry first of course. If the soil is wet, you get an ugly smear so best wait, or instead hose the mound away. The idea here is the ants do not like to be disturbed and you will give the local jays and robins some food into the bargain.


The second phase, given the British weather is usually damp, is to dress the nest with a mixture of Armillotox and water from a watering can (follow the instructions carefully). The scent will put the ants off the lawn altogether as they communicate by chemical smell, but this may take a summer of repeat treatment to work.

Finally, there is the ultimate solution. Buy borax powder from the hardware shop and mix it with a sugar solution, making sure it is not entirely dissolved. (A sugar solution is basically a cup of water mixed with two table spoons of sugar). Place the mixture next to the nests in a small open container. The worker ants will take the concoction deep into the nest and will unwittingly poison their sisters. If the sugar solution proves too hard, mix the borax with honey. Please be aware, when dealing with poisons, be sure to wear suitable clothing and to make sure it is safe from harming others - children and pets should be kept away from the areas.

If all goes well the ant problem will disappear never to return.

- Guy Deakins


Autumn is upon us

Well folks, September has arrived. Odd that, seeing as our summer hardly got going before the first signs of autumn crept into our early morning bones.


As I am sure I have said before, I love this time of year most of all. The weather is still mild, yet things in the garden seemed to have slowed. The last of the summer vegetable harvest is ready to be picked and the apples are sitting heavy on the boughs. I have already pencilled in my visit to Sheffield Park, the garden designed for autumn colour in the heart of Sussex and all is good in the world.

Time to sit back in the deck chair for one last warm snooze, whilst the light is still good? Not on your nelly! Now is the time, not so much of our discontent, but most definitely of much anticipated activity in the garden following the rather dull and monotonous tending of the garden in the previous months. Cutting back all those perennials that are rapidly passing their best is the first chore which must be done, not forgetting to leave some seed heads for the birds.

Pruning the climbing roses is another, as I described at this time last year in this very spot (check the archives if you don’t believe me). If your lawns have had a hard wear this summer, then now is the time to patch those glaring holes. The final sowing of winter green manure Phacelia is also a must for all those that want to return some goodness and compost to the soil later in the winter, not forgetting mulching is of vital importance too - trap the last of the warmth in the soil now and pay dividends later.

Sowings of winter and spring crops can still be made, such as cresses, carrot, turnips, mooli and endive; not forgetting onions sown now for spring. Now is also the time for taking cuttings from your favourite pelargoniums and verbenas. Under glass it is also time to prune you apricot, peach and nectarine trees, removing all laterals, tying in all those shoots that are required for next years fruit.

Finally, in that oh so special place we all have secreted in the vast expanse of the average urban garden, ‘The Pinery’; keep a genial atmosphere of between 70° and 83° among your fruiting plants. Water them with clear manure water, refraining from syringing those in fruit or flower. Not forgetting that pineapples are thought to grow better from fermenting rotting material beneath than from the use of hot water.

So, lots to do, before you clean your tools and shut up shop for winter, reverting to your welcoming armchairs besides the hearth. Just one last thing mind you. Don’t forget, above all other things, the second spring is coming. That curious moment offered by Mother Nature when all plants burn off the last of their stored food, producing a burst of growth reminiscent of early spring. So perhaps don’t down tools just yet.

-- Guy Deakins

April Garden Projects

April is the month when our thoughts turn towards the garden. It’s easy to be overwhelmed at the size of the task ahead but the simple solution is here...

What you need is a project, one which can be achieved in a morning or an afternoon and which improves a few square metres. You’ll feel you’ve achieved something wonderful and if you break the whole garden into a series of small projects it suddenly appears more manageable. Here are three to get you started...



Strawberry Pots
You don’t need a huge patch to enjoy growing strawberries. Plant a few in pots as a treat. Buy young, rich green plants certified virus free. Plant 3-4 to a 12 inch (30cm) clay pot. The crowns (where shoots meet roots) should be level with the compost surface. Water them in and stand in the shelter of a house wall. If you have a greenhouse or a cold frame they will establish more quickly and fruit earlier. Pinch off any runners (slender, horizontal stems) which form.


Seating
Don’t forget an all-weather seat so you can sit and contemplate all your hard work over a cup of tea or a nip of something stronger. Teak from renewable resources is fantastic but cast iron or aluminium is good though you’ll need a cushion to protect your posterior on cold days! Position it in a sunny area. Buy a few flowering daffodils, tulips and pansies and plant them in a pretty pot next to the bench...lovely.

Grass
Lawns always look bedraggled after the winter. Remove dead grass by raking the surface with a wire toothed rake. Improve drainage on heavy soil by spiking it with a garden fork every 6 inches (15cm) or so to a depth of about 4 inches (10cm). Give the fork a good wiggle each time. Sweep sharp sand into the holes with a broom. Then mow the lawn with the blades set on high and remove the clippings. Two weeks later apply a combined weed killer and fertilizer. If you’re lucky it will rain within 24 hours. If not just water it in. Mow weekly to keep the lawn thick and healthy.